Zebras are horse’s fancy striped cousins. They are exotic animals that are native to Africa, and known for their distinctive black and white stripes. (It’s said their stripes are meant to confuse flies!)
So they are neat, fancy looking animals, and they are horse shaped. The real question is, can we ride them like a horse?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is also yes… but maybe reconsider it. It’s not going to be the experience you think it might be. Unless the experience you are going for is, “awkward ride on an animal that is really scared and may hate you.”
But let’s go into exactly why this is…
Zebras are Not Domesticated
Horses have been bred in captivity for 6,000 years, domesticated from their wild ancestors. Zebras have not. There have been herds in captivity, but they still pass on their wild traits to their offspring. Even if a horse is born out in the wild (like an American mustang), they could be tamed, trained and eventually ridden like a horse bred on a farm. But the farms that sell zebras say they need to be taken from their mothers and bottle fed to be tame.
They are wild animals. They are skittish, and aggressive. They are prey animals, used to having to defend themselves and run from predators. Zebras cannot be domesticated. They are unpredictable to handle, and known to kick and bite.
Overall, you just wouldn’t be able to trust a zebra. It’s a wild animal, it might turn on you.
Zebras Have Different Conformation Than Horses
Although horse shaped, zebras have different conformation than horses. It is actually more similar to a donkey than a horse. Their backs are flat and not strong.
They are also fairly small, pony sized. They usually stand about 11-12 hands high. Not many adults would be suitable to ride them, and I would guess not that many parents would be willing to let their children be the test dummy for a wild zebra.
If you did manage to find someone to ride one though, it would be tough to find tack that would fit it. They are not the standard horse shape so having a correctly fitted saddle would be near impossible.
Zebras Have a Volatile Personality
Riding a zebra has been described as “riding a coiled spring.”
“The difference between a horse and a zebra is that a horse will think before he does, and a zebra will do before he thinks,” said Zebra breeder James Cox.
Zebras are prey animals, and wary of anything that might be a predator. This includes a human. If someone is on top of them, they may feel trapped and threatened – after all, it could be a lion grabbing them. They could become aggressive and cause injury.
Throughout history, people have decided they wanted to train zebras. It’s not advisable, there’s a low success rate, but some people like the challenge.
Walter Rothschild was one zebra trainer. Born in London in 1868, he decided early on in his life that he would be a zoologist. His family actually wanted him to be in the family business of finance, but being a very wealthy family, they indulged him. As a child they bought him kangaroos and exotic birds. He studied zoology in college. When he was an adult, they funded his expeditions all over the world to study animals. He amassed a huge personal collection of specimens, which he put in a museum that was open to the public.
He wanted to dispel the thought that zebras couldn’t be trained, so in 1895, he drove a carriage team of zebras to Buckingham Palace. He was also frequently seen around London in a single zebra carriage.
A much more modern trainer is Gary Witheford. He is based in the UK, and is known primarily for being a racehorse trainer, but also teaches horsemanship and general training and starting.
In 1996, after years of training horses, he boasted to friends in a bar that he would be able to tame a zebra, if given the opportunity. Luckily for him, someone nearby did have a zebra, and took him up on that challenge. He was able to tame two zebras and even stuck a child jockey on them. Apparently he liked the experience so much, he got three more zebras.
The zebra is a tough animal to train, due to their wild nature. Some people have done it, and find it fulfilling, but there’s no guarantee that it will not turn on them. They are better off being respected as the wild animals they are. If you are considering, for whatever reason, training a zebra, your efforts would likely be better spent training a horse. There’s a vast amount of support, resources and help with training horses. With zebras… you might be completely on your own.
The good news is that if you love zebras, you can be around them without riding them. They are common in zoos and safari experiences, or you could go to Africa to see them in the wild. It also seems like it’s possible to get a zebra as a pet. But they might not be very cuddly, they might be the kind of pet that tries to kick your face in.